Saturday, April 22, 2017

the legacy of an ordinary woman

There was a woman who lived quietly in the world. She won no awards, saved no lives. Mostly, she did the best she could to get by.

But she loved. People, trees, skies, animals, moments, promises, roads, words. She took the time as much as she could for wonder, enchantment, and appreciation.

She did nothing great with this love. Her art was small, simple, like her life. She would never be famous. She would probably be forgotten.

But love needs no fame to thrive. Each smile she gave to a stranger, each flower she pressed in a library book, each hug for an unhappy child, each moment in which her love shone out, would not die. It would echo on down through time. The books she wrote would be those quiet words of encouragement someone got stuck in the back of their mind. The art she painted would be memories someone could look back upon always to make them smile. The healing she did would be taught on through the generations - how to bandage a little scrape, how to sing a lullaby. She was making a legacy, even in the quiet, getting by.

illustration errol le cain

Friday, April 21, 2017

the simplicity of being

There's something I always remember near the end of a storm. The wild thing is not necessarily the fierce thing battering at edges and weeping, singing, spinning upon the silenced world. There is wild too in the calm waters and the soft meadow.

I read again this morning that a story must have conflict to be interesting. But I don't know. I've read stories in which there is no apparent conflict, but which have such a sense of place that the silence beneath that space, the old roots that have tangled and been torn apart, rewoven, repaired, to create that space, impacts on my consciousness more than any visible stakes could. The power of suggestion, and of the simple description of something, should not be underestimated. The first time I heard the title of Henry Beston's book, The Outermost House, those words alone were an entire possible story.

I've changed this webspace a little for the inbreathing time of my next book. Winter is coming, bringing words and a wolfish sea.

how to describe a woman

Do not call her beautiful, pretty, attractive. She is not the angle of bone nor the measured scope of her face. Neither call her beautiful on the inside, since she'll know exactly what you mean - a lack, dressed up in a compliment.

Instead, tell her how you love the way the world tilts slightly, as if the moon has come closer to see, when she smiles.

Do not say she is tall or short, fat or thin, as if we possess space and every inch of it must be paid for somehow. Instead, note the way she shines at the edges, where the bright, immortal sphere of her soul comes in contact with the human hour.

Let her know you are grateful for her body, since it brought her to you.

Describe not what she does for a living, because if we think money is living, we've got life badly wrong. Talk instead about the quality and tone of her silence as she sits in the bedroom watching rainshadows fall and tiny motes of dust fall and your whole courage fall because how can you approach this woman, this universe, breaking her silence and risking whatever she might say to shore you up or break you?

And when in the darkness you can not see her, can only dream her in the warmth of breath and love's heart beating, you must relinquish words entirely. When you know at last that she is beyond description, then you understand a woman.

a witch of a book

I recently finished reading Wild, An Elemental Journey, by Jay Griffith - a book which continues to cling with long, sharp fingers to my heart even after I've put it down and picked up something more gentle. It is a witch book in the darkest meaning of the word - fierce and hungry, scraping its meaning into my bones until I am crying. And in the best, most real meaning of the word - laden with an old and powerful wisdom that may taste bitter at times, may choke us with its herby smoke, but is more than essential; is true. And true we can not do without.
“All humans are essentially wild creatures and hate confinement. We need what is wild, and we thrill to it, our wildness bubbling over with an anarchic joie de vivre. We glint when the wild light shines. The more suffocatingly enclosed we are - tamed by television, controlled by mortgages and bureaucracy - the louder our wild genes scream in aggression, anger and depression.” ― Jay Griffiths
My only argument against Jay's philosophy is that wild doesn't have to mean anarchy. Infact, any walk through a forest, a riverside, a meadow, will inform you that wilderness is actually a place of peace and co-operation. I myself see modern urban civilisations as places of anarchy. For all their laws and their boundaries, they revolt in the most profound manner of all - they do as they wish, regardless of the natural rules of life.

But wild - the tapestry of living - the threads that, trembling together, hum a timeless song all over the world, whatever the zone or climate - that is the enclosure of love. And the spirit, indeed, of internet journalling, since through this medium we are able to weave our roots together and share nutrients like all the members of a forest; we sing the evening songs of food-places and experiences as small birds do; we make a community. (How strange that this should happen in a white space of no space - a realm that touches nothing except minds and hearts in disparate places of the world.) The internet dismantles political laws and boundaries. It may seem like a wild anarchy of information and opinion, but I believe it is a wild peace of co-operation.

crossed paths

There is magic in the old city. You'll know that already if you've ever lived there. Or if you've read anything by Charles de Lint you'll be able to imagine it.

We had to go all the long, long way into the city today. When we had a free moment, I took my daughter to see the decrepit house I once lived in when I was a starving student learning poetry and old books and eating Chinese takeaways for dinner. My apartment was tiny and you could not walk halfway into the kitchen without fearing that you'd slide down the tilted floor towards the uncertain windows. I was amazed to see the building still standing, after all these years.

As we were walking back down the hill, an old Slavic man walked up towards us. He looked like something out of a myth - dressed in ancient style, all browns and weary leather; he wore a round leather hat from beneath which hung two long grey braids. His chin was tattooed. He walked with the aid of a twisted wooden cane, although he was tall and thin and straight.

I smiled at him, utterly drawn to him. And he stopped. He said, how is it that I should come upon two such beautiful ladies on a day like this? And he waved a hand to honour the sky, sending black birds swirling into cold grey light. Then he held out both arms and bowed to us.

We laughed with delight and thanked him. We went on our way. Turning back once, I saw him ambling up the hill. Turning back again a moment later, I found he had vanished.

No doubt he lives in one of the tiny dingy apartments which clutter the ramshackle houses on the hill. He likely sits alone in his dim room, dreaming of his wondrous, faraway homeland and drinking smoky tea. But it seemed to me he was one of the old, deeper people, the magic people, and I feel blessed to have crossed his path on this hushed winter's day.

be here now

If you find your place in the world, but you're not really welcomed by those who already live there, keep travelling. One day you'll stop, and look up, and realise you've been searching for your place not in the world but in other people.

You belong where ever you stand. You belong in your own soul. 

celebrating litha instead of christmas

This post is a gathering of a few ideas on how to celebrate Midsummer's Day, also known as Litha or the Summer Solstice, instead of Christmas. It is of course most helpful to people living in the southern hemisphere. However, I know most of my readers experience a midwinter Christmas in the north. I also know that pagan is a uselessly broad term - my own family's spirituality looks nothing like most paganism definitions. Nevertheless, I hope my sharing, even if not specific to your own season or spirituality, will at least inspire you to contemplate how you might serve your own needs and religious callings either on December 21st (Midsummer's Day) or the 25th.


Midsummer is a time to honour the Lord of Light, the sun king. Following an Advent tradition towards midsummer is more about accumulation than opening or taking things away.

When my daughter was small, instead of an advent calendar we had a painted paper sun attached to the wall with white tack. Every day, it moved up towards a pinnacle which represented Midsummer, the longest day. Along with tiny chocolates, there was a written blessing - a gift of shining light and love - for each day.

Another idea for Advent is to pin up a picture of a golden-haired king with a 12-pointed crown. (I personally believe in a short advent for younger children). Or 13 points if you want to include the sacred number of the Mother. Each day, the child can place a star on the king's crown.

If you worship the Oak King instead of God as Light, then you may prefer to pin up a picture of a tree, and attach leaves for each day ... or have empty branches in a vase, and hang a leaf for each day.

Every day of advent, go out and pick a wildflower which you can add to a vase. As you are adding the flower, you might want to say a prayer or give a blessing to someone in the family. On Litha eve, take out these flowers and press them.

Make a series of pockets from felt and inside place a gemstone, leaf, acorn, dried rosebud, or other piece of nature, along with a blessing or a note about some special activity to plan to do that day.

Midsummer Decorating

Instead of killing a tree to decorate, you can bring in branches, place them in a vase, and hang them with handmade flowers, leaves, and stars.

Or have a vase of fresh flowers on a table, surrounded by gold-painted stones.

Make paper chains from red, yellow, and orange crepe paper to hang around the house.

Hang painted cardboard suns in the windows or make cellophane stars.

Hang a wreath or bunch of flowers on your front door.

Crafts for Children

Make fairy windchimes using ribbons, tiny silver bells and gemstones.

Sun weaving with wool and coloured paper.

Sew a sun doll.

Make a fairy maypole using cardboard and crepe paper streamers.

Print out and put together this sun box.

Make a sun fairy wand.

Plant sunflowers.

Make a sun wheel for your garden.

Make a lavender star.

More ideas here.

If you are sending out seasonal cards, rather than staid expressions of "seasonal joy", send a blessing by writing in each one what you like best about the person you are sending it to. Also add a flower over which you have said a small prayer of peace and happiness for the recipient.

For Adults

If you are pagan but not interested in Wiccan magic practices, group rituals, or old kitchen witchery - if you just believe in the old gods and want to celebrate this season without hocus pocus, here are some gentle ideas for adults at Litha, not involving children.

Take a nature walk - in the woods, along the beach.

Dance together when no one else is around.

Donate food and clothes to charity.

Cleanse your house with natural, flower-based cleaners. Sweep the hearth.

Host a barbecue or picnic.

Do something special for your husband.

Light a candle and pray for the peace and happiness of your marriage, or your family, or the world.

Rent a good version of Shakespeare's A Midsummernight's Dream and having a movie evening with honey-coated popcorn and wine.

Write a letter to your father telling him how you honour and love him.

Gather berries at local farms.

Meditate upon the spiritual themes which summer arises in your heart and mind.

On Litha Eve

Watch the sunset and tell stories of good kings and brave, honourable knights. Stories of flower fairies, promises kept, dreams redeemed.

Visit the woods and sing songs, make circles from flower petals, leave fruit for the birds.

Visit the beach and leave coils of shells or stones in the sand.

Set out colourful silk cloth prayer flags in your garden.

Ring a delicate bell at midnight for any children who are lying awake hoping to see or hear evidence of the Litha fairies.

Sprinkle glitter and flower petals on the floor so when the children wake in the morning they will see the fairies have been, leaving them presents.

On Litha Morning

Instead of paper crowns from crackers, make leaf crowns or flower wreaths hung with brightly coloured ribbons.

Wrap gifts in muslin and silk cloths instead of paper.

Light a candle and say a prayer or sing before opening gifts.

Burn incence.

Sit in a circle to open gifts.

Have father dress up as the sun king or forest king and bring gifts in a sack.

Lay out beads or genstones in circles so they can soak in the sun through the day. In the afternoon or the next day, make them into bracelets.

Through the Day

Have a picnic lunch.

Set up little tents for the children. Each one could contain a different activity or special food.

Make a summer pinata by gluing leaves to a paper mached balloon.

Since a special song, say a prayer, drink a toast, or scatter flower petals at noon.

Litha Night

Have a bonfire.

Fill your garden with tea light candles and have a picnic dinner.

Sing goodnight to the sun.


Fruit salad
Vegetable and herb salad
Coiled bread
Sun cake (however you want it - for example, a sponge cake with jam, cream, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with clean rose petals.)
Sunflower seed bars
Strawberries dipped in honey
Fruit cake
Rose sugar
Find the sun inside apples by cutting them open horizontally

Gift ideas

For stockings or otherwise. Most of these you can make yourself. Trust me! Many of them I have made and it's easier than you might think.

Fleece fairies
Felt dolls
Silk cuddle doll
Solar dyed cloths or tshirts
Willow whistle
Soft-coloured muslin or silk cloths for playtime
Modelling beeswax
Felt gnomes
Felt finger puppets
Hand-carved dolls' furniture
Fairy garden
Painted stones
Fairy baby in a cradle
Handmade books
Magic wands

Explaining to Family

If you have extended family who are not pagan, who believe strongly in another religion, or who simply sneer at anything they don't follow themselves, then don't explain about your December tradition unless you want to. Just say you are doing your own thing at home ... Or don't say anything, simply do it and don't invite them.